River Edge’s Rocks of Kindness and Hope
Journeys into River Edge
For me it first started when I came across a painted blue rock with the message “be strong”.
It was so simple in its form, but so powerful in its impact. It carried a message I desperately needed to see on that early morning about a month into the COVID – a day normal in every sense in this extraordinary time. As I walked my dog it felt like I was floating through a fog. This small rock and its uplifting message lifted me out of my funk.
It was my first introduction to what has become an interesting sidebar to the COVID-19 experience in town – an act of reaffirmation and community building through painted stones.
Today one can take embark on an interesting and inspiring journey by simply walking out one’s front door. These painted stones adorn our curbsides, parks and front yards – carrying messages of care and hope.
A look at the “This is River Edge” Facebook page indicates that its first painted rock entry was dated April 30. In it the poster wrote of having seen some such items for the last week or two before posting.
Since that time postings have been numerous – almost as numerous as the sightings that can be made in and around River Edge.
Many of the Facebook postings express surprise and gratitude for the thoughtfulness of the usually anonymous placers of this decorative messages:
“God bless the angels who leave these inspirational messages of love, hope and joy” read one.
“Was not having so great a day today and this was just the sign I needed. Love the positivity”, said another more recently.
Many refer to fortitude and strength (“Stay Strong River Edge” or “You Can Move Mountains”), others to the frontline workers. Recently three rocks in the colors of Cherry Hill, Roosevelt and the River Dell Middle School sought to replace graduations stolen by the virus.
I had never seen such a thing before. Apparently, the idea had its start elsewhere a few years back.
Called Rocks of Kindness, it is described as a viral trend where people, commonly children, paint pebbles or cobbles and leaves them for others to find and collect. Photos of the painted rocks and hints of where to find them are commonly shared on Facebook groups.
One history points to the start of it in 2015 when Megan Murphy wrote “You've got this" on a rock and left it on a beach on Cape Cod. After a friend found it, she started leaving more rocks with inspirational messages behind.
Generally, rocks which are hid are intended to be picked up, photographed and put on Facebook, and then re-hid in a different spot. As the trend of painting pebbles has spread, it has many derivatives. Over the past five years rocks were frequently painted as a fun activity for kids, as well as to support particular charities, events or movements. Sometimes the name of a hashtag or the Facebook group the painter belongs to would be written on it as well.
Now during the pandemic the painting rock trend has been revived.
A Google search indicated the first reference made this spring to painted rocks during the pandemic was a March 17 TV feature out of Chicago:
"We were sitting here and we thought, let's paint some happy rocks and we'll place them around the neighborhood and as people are out getting their outdoor time," Valet said. "These rocks would just be happy little reminders that they're in a community and that they're people still thinking about them." One online writer observed that they were multiplying daily – turning a walk into a sport of sorts as one passing by is kept guessing what they will see next and where.
Others communities followed with their own painted rock offerings (I read of early April efforts in California and Minnesota), and eventually it arrived here in River Edge.
Getting back to my first sighting in April it occurred in Brookside Park, just behind where I live, the rock’s message (“Stay Strong”) resonated for the placement of this rock was at the entrance to the park just beyond a yellow caution ribbon set up as a barrier to keep folks out. The hopeful message of faith provided quite a contrast to the troubling and disorienting facts before one’s eyes.
Today the yellow tape is mostly down. The park is open for walking, though not yet for the swings, jungle gym or the basketball court. But one can now walk throughout – be it with proper social distancing.
They tell us we are now in a time of re-opening. Many of the yellow caution ribbons have been removed. But many of us continue to feel hostages in this time of challenge and uncertainty as if there is a yellow “caution” ribbon in our minds and spirits. As a result, the the painted rocks remain popular and prevalent. So does the potency of its messages. In the midst of these confusing and uncertain times we continue to gain a considerable measure of comfort and hope from those who express solidarity with us through these rocks and their messages. Most often we do not know the name of the one who has performed the generous deed. We thank you, but it really does not matter. We know who you are even as you remain nameless. You are our neighbors. You are from River Edge, and we know what that means. I’m glad that we have each other’s backs – especially at a time like this. It is something I knew in my gut. These thoughtful painted rocks just reinforce what many of us knew all along. Thank you neighbor. I am looking forward to catching up with you when this is all done.
For now, I walk, admire the rocks, and hope for better days ahead. Also, I think gratefully of you.
Take care and stay healthy. As for me I’ll continue on the lookout for more painted rocks.
Photo credits: Ryan Gibbons and Robert Taylor